Senator Sonny Angara said part of the incremental revenues of the proposed tax reform measure should be allocated for the strengthening of government’s employment assistance targeted to workers who may be affected by the tax reform.
“Oo nga’t mababawasan ang buwis para mas malaki ang maiuuwing sweldo ng ating mga kababayan, pero mahalaga na tiyakin ng gobyerno na mayroon pa rin silang hanapbuhay sakaling mawalan man sila ng trabaho bunga ng panukalang tax reform,” said Angara, chairman of the ways and means committee.
The Beverage Industry Association of the Philippines said around 130,000 jobs of the beverage industry will be affected by the proposed excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Nevertheless, Finance Undersecretary Karl Chua stated that about 500,000 jobs will be generated annually by the Build, Build, Build program or infrastructure projects that will be funded by the fresh revenues from the proposed new taxes.
At present, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), under its Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers or TUPAD Program, provides emergency employment for workers who were laid off or terminated as a result of closure of an establishment and for self-employed individuals who have lost their livelihood including farmers and fishermen.
The TUPAD Programs provides a payment of salary equivalent to the prevailing minimum wage in the area or locality, and free skills training to prepare them for self or wage employment.
“Dapat ay handa ang gobyerno para sa worst-case scenario lalo na’t kabuhayan ng ating mga ordinaryong manggagawa, pati na ang mga maliliit na sugar farmers ang nakataya dito. Employment assistance for workers who will be affected by the tax reform should be included in the earmarking provision,” said the veteran legislator, a known champion of labor reforms.
The seasoned lawmaker added that part of the incremental revenues of the proposed excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, estimated at P47 billion, should also be used to develop and sustain feeding programs to address malnutrition, widen access to potable drinking water supply, and to expand Philhealth’s dialysis package.
House Bill 5636 imposes a P10-excise tax on every liter of sugar-sweetened beverages which include sweetened juice drinks, tea and coffee; all carbonated beverage with added sugar; flavored water; energy drinks; sports drinks; powdered drinks not classified as milk, juice, tea and coffee; cereal and grain beverages; and other non-alcoholic beverages that contain sugar.
The youthful senator said that imposing excise tax based on sugar content would be more reasonable and more effective in encouraging Filipinos to consume healthier drinks.
However, the Food and Drug Administration said that a per liter basis will be much easier to implement, and that they need enough time and budget to boost their manpower and to put in place the equipment needed for a sugar content-based taxation.
To allow the agency to prepare, Angara said the committee is looking at imposing sugar-sweetened beverage tax per liter but at a lower rate of P5 per liter – as proposed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines – in the first year or first two years of implementation, and then shifting to a sugar content-based taxation for the succeeding years.